Sunday, February 28, 2010

"I'll have what he's having..."

One of the great stories told about the late Rich Mullins in the book An Arrow Pointing to Heaven concerns his time in the pubs of Ireland.  Rich loved Ireland, and loved to spend his evenings mixing and mingling with the people at their local watering holes.  Irish pubs are famous for their vitality and hospitality, but there was one odd thing about Rich enjoying them so much.  He was a teetotaler- Rich did not drink alcohol at all!  But still he would be in the pubs, telling stories and laughing with the people.  And almost every night, according to author James Smith, Rich would be honored with the ultimate pub salute- patrons yelling out, pointing to him and saying, "I'll have a pint of what he's having!"  They could see that Rich was overflowing- with the love of Jesus.

Over the years my youth groups were often accused of being the "life of the party."  We were always very visible; we were often very loud.  There was never any doubt that when we were together, we were having fun.  Other youth groups were often jealous of the joy and freedom we shared.  People we didn't know often weren't sure what to make of us- we never seemed "pious" enough to be a church group to them.  We seldom had rules and regulations; we had a shared respect born from a love for one another.  This often freaked parents out, but it made our ministry special and different.  And people saw this difference in us.  Every motel and every restaurant we ever booked invited us back and commented on how much they enjoyed having us- even the ones that were scared to death of teenagers!  It's not that we were angels; I made bazillions of mistakes and we did not always represent Christ as we should have. When we did fail, we would address the mistakes, forgive each other, and move on.  The band Stellar Kart once described grace with the words "There will always be a second chance and you will always be on your first try."  We tried to live out that kind of love.  We were far from perfect, and we were sometimes obnoxious.  It's just that we were Jesus Freaks, full of life, love and joy.  We knew how to SHINE (Make 'em wonder what you've got, make them wish that they were not on the outside looking bored.  SHINE, let it shine before all men, let 'em see your works and then let them glorify the LORD- Newsboys)!

There are so many people who have a view of the church as boring and joyless.  It is my prayer that from New Garden to Springfield, on to Kissimmee and Chicago, Tampa and Waycross, that people who encountered my groups in restaurants, malls and everywhere else found themselves wondering where our joy came from.  The answer, of course, is Jesus.  I hope that after they encountered me, surrounded by teenagers and singing Lean On Me in line at Disney World that people young and old looked at each other, smiled, and said, "I'll have a glass of what they're having!" - and that through our actions and silliness Jesus was glorified!

One last thought- if you think that following Jesus is boring, I suggest you try reading your New Testament one more time...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Mr. Curious Show

Congratulations to Cheryl Deal Meadows for remembering that Disney Dollars were the item you could buy for a dollar and yet still have a dollar when you when done (see yesterday's posting).  She also knew that Yensid was Disney backwards, but no one remembered who he was.  Yensid was the unspoken name of the chief sorcerer in The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of Fantasia.  I told you our questions were tough!  As for today's post, there is nothing curious about what Holly Harward, Jill Gilbreth, Allison Rees and Beth Brown are up to in the picture above.  This was normal in the youth ministries of Springfield Friends Meeting in the early '90's!  But we did find ways to amuse ourselves...

The scavenger hunts were not the only weird events we did at the mall.  On July 30, 1991, as a part of Youth Week, we took our video camera and headed out to film The Mr. Curious Show.  Our youth would wander the mall with my camera, going in stores and stopping "people on the street" to ask them questions, beginning each query with the phrase "Mr. Curious want to know."About 20 youth showed up for the afternoon event, including Beth, Jill, Holly, Stacy Gilbreth, Ben Moran, Steven McGrath, Danny McCorquodale, Jennifer Wood, Mary Mercadante and Natalie Whitaker.  The show got off to a rousing start when Ben showed told us what color underwear he had on (blue) and Beth shanked (yanked the umbros off of) Steven- who seemed totally bewildered at what had just happened to him.  At a bed store Stacy asked a sales clerk the strangest thing she had ever seen in the store, and the lady responded that she guessed it was people jumping up and down on the beds.  Jill asked if she could jump on the beds, the clerk said sure, and so Jill did.  In a jewelry store Mary asked a sales lady what kind of deodorant she was wearing.  It was Arrid Extra Dry.  In Victoria's Secret Steven posed the question, asking about the largest bra they sold.  It was 38DD.  We travelled to Spencer's Gifts, where Mandy asked a clerk about the oddest question she had ever been asked.  The lady responded with an answer that made everyone blush, and then gave details no one needed to know!  At the Record Bar, a music store, someone asked the clerk who was better- Mozart or Beethoven?  They answer was way too long and way too detailed to mention.  We also encountered a woman who was practicing riding escalators to get over her fear of them.  It was quite an afternoon.

The Mr. Curious Show was like many of the things we did as part of our youth programs- goofy and silly, but never quite up to the expectations I had when I thought of the idea.  But you know what?  It never really mattered.  When we were together, we always had fun, and we always spread the joy.  Looking back at the video, it is amazing to see the smiles on the faces of the unsuspecting people who faced our camera.  Plus we ate ice cream.  You know it can't be a bad day when you get Baskin-Robbins...

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Search For the Pink Panther

The Mall Scavenger Hunt was one of the regular events of my student ministries over the years, and the tradition began during the Springfield years (1986-94).  We would head over to the big city (Greensboro) and the Four Seasons Town Centre. This was before the days when mall security would freak out about groups of teenagers playing a game in the mall.  The youth would be broken into teams and sent out with a list of things to find.  Always included was one special individual each group had to seek and find.  Here's how it worked:  Groups would be told that somewhere in the mall an employee in one of the stores had been asked to play our game.  That person would respond to only one name.  Many times it was the Pink Panther; other times it was the Blue Gnu or the Purple People Eater.  Our kids could approach the workers and simply ask them "are you the Pink Panther?"  If they tried to explain, or say that their goofy youth leader had them playing a stupid game, then the real Pink Panther had permission to lie about their identity.  So we would have 20 or so youth wandering the mall asking people if they were the Pink Panther!  This would happen as they were doing the rest of the Scavenger Hunt.  I found a copy of our 1992 hunt; I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the actual items they had to search for and do: 
  • In how many (and which) stores can you purchase the movie 101 Dalmatians?
  • Buy something that costs as close to 25 cents as possible without going over.
  • Where can you purchase a poster featuring Dana Carvey as President Bush? (That would have been daddy Bush, not W.)
  • How much is the most expensive swim suit in the mall and where can you buy it?
  • On which Billy Joel CD (NOT Greatest Hits!) can you find the song Themes From An Italian Restaurant?
  • What's the largest size bra Victoria's Secret sells?
  • Which store sells Ren and Stimpy boxer shorts for $14.99?
  • Where can you find a tape by the band One Bad Pig?
  • How much would it cost (before tax) to buy a taco supreme from Taco Bell, a jumbo chili dog from Frank'N'Stein, one scoop of Baskin-Robbins ice cream and a large coke from McDonald's?
There were many more questions, a scoring system, and all kinds of other things to make the game fun, but basically, if you found the Pink Panther, you won.  There were also two bonus questions in 1992 that were really tricky.  The first was "Who is Yensid?"   The second was an activity:  Find the place where you can spend the dollar I gave you, yet still have a dollar when you are through.  I'll give you a hint; both answers could be found at The Disney Store!  Leave your answers in the comment section below if you'd like to play at home, and I'll give you the answers tomorrow.

Jesus once said that people would recognize his disciples by the way they loved one another.  I was always so proud to see my students playing hard, respecting others and caring for one another for all to see when we would play these wild games in public places. The person I would ask to be the mystery person always told me it was the highlight of their day, even thought they usually thought I was crazy. I think lots of adults often saw us in action and thought "I'll have a glass of what they're having!"  But more about that is coming Sunday...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

CCM Countdown: 10

My countdown of the 50 Contemporary Christian Music projects that had the most impact on my life and ministry (through 2006) continues as we enter the Top 10.  Due to several ties, it's actually a Top 13, but hey, who's counting?  Beginning today, and continuing each Thursday, we will feature the albums one at a time and provide a bit more detail than before.  To see 15-11 and find links to go back to the beginning, click here.  Enjoy the first number 10!
I owned a Relient K compact disc that I had never really listened to prior to seeing Matthew Thiessen and the boys live in late 2001 at a National Youth Workers Convention.  They simply blew me away, and before long my youth group at Wesley Memorial UMC was hooked on this album.  The music was pop/punk, the lyrics (written by Thiessen) were clever and spiritual, and every song was a gem.  Produced by former dc Talk guitarist Mark Lee Townsend for Gotee Records, Anatomy is an easy choice for my Top 10.

The opener Kick-Off rocks you you into the hit Pressing On, which reminds us to press on towards the prize that is life with Jesus.  The infectious Sadie Hawkins Dance (see video below) would often fill our van on youth trips, with its "OH-OH-OH" refrain. While not a spiritual song, Sadie really spoke to the teenage relationships I dealt with everyday.  Other classics include Down In Flames (which encourages Christians to stop beating up other Christians), Lion-O (a tribute to the classic 80's cartoon Thundercats) and Less Is More.  Perhaps the most powerful song is For The Moments I Feel Faint, better known by the first line of the chorus "Never underestimate my Jesus," which includes the great line "your telling me that there's no hope, I'm telling you you're wrong..."    I could always judge how popular a CD was with my students by how many wanted to borrow it. With this one, the borrowed it and I never got it back- over and over again! 
Download this:  For The Moments I Feel Faint

Two Lefts Don't Make A Right, But Three Do-  2003
Deck the Hall, Bruise your Hand-  2003
Mhmm-  2004

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It just keeps going...and going...

This is my 183rd consecutive day of blogging on this site, which means I have passed the halfway point in my goal to blog every day for one year.  In life, years seem to go by so quickly.  On this blog...well, not so much!  It seems like forever since the first post, but I have stayed with it, and I have thoroughly enjoyed telling old stories, sharing my opinion, and most importantly, sharing what Jesus has done in my life through the many people and places I have recalled here.  I love getting comments (click on the tiny word COMMENTS at the bottom of this post to leave one);  I love when people sign my Guestbook (to your left); and I love getting e-mails at  This blog is a ministry to me, and I hope you are sharing in the joy it brings me.  I also hope you will check out my Lenten devotional blog, The 40 Day Adventure.

So what do we have to look forward to over the next 182 posts?  My CCM Countdown will continue tomorrow and every Thursday.  There is still more from the Springfield years, including all of the highlights of the greatest youth trip I was ever part of, Disney World 1993.  We will move on to the Kissimmee years, full of memorable moments and characters and the best Youth Ministry Team ever!  You'll experience my brief stays in Chicago and Georgia, and in-between those two some wild times in Tampa.  We've got lots to cover, and I hope you come along for the ride!  I hope you will be able to see, through great success and massive failure that Jesus is always there- because that is the real story this blog seeks to tell.  Even after 183 posts, we still have forever to sing the praises of God's amazing grace!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Black Thursday

I have mentioned several times on this blog that taking week long trips with youth is in many ways like a miniature version of MTV's The Real World.  Living together for a week or so presents many challenges.  If you have ever watched the show, you know that at some point many of the relationships start to unravel and fall apart.  Youth trips are no different.

You see, it doesn't matter how much you love each other or love Jesus, a week of someone never picking up their dirty underwear, leaving wet swim suits on your bed or not flushing the toilet can start to wear on you.  The anger inside you starts to build, but you hold it in.  Then, suddenly, and usually completely unexpected by the person in question, you lose it.  You throw the wet suit at them; their dirty underwear ends up in the ocean; or you just start screaming.  On our trips, we could usually predict about when these things would happen.  We called it Black Thursday.

As a youth pastor I could always see the storm clouds gathering, I just didn't know where the lightning would strike!  I learned, however, that there was always one place to look first- middle school girls.  Many a Black Thursday (and to be honest, pretty much every youth group trauma!) began because a room full of 12-14 year old girls just couldn't take each other anymore.  It might be one of the things I listed above; more often, it was all about one of two issues.  Either one girl was jealous that two of the girls were spending more time with each other than with her, or it was about a boy.  Someone had a crush on a boy, but the boy liked someone else in the room, or another of the girls had been flirting with him- it could be any number of things.  But it usually led to screaming, yelling, name calling and the occasional punch.  It was never pretty.

As the years went by, I began to plan for Black Thursday.  We would talk about it all week.  Our Wednesday devotions would be about avoiding it.  One year I even staged a fight between two high school guys (that story will be told in full once I reach the Kissimmee years) to help relieve the tension.  But still-  Black Thursday almost always came.

The point today is this; youth groups are full of humans.  None of us were perfect, and our flaws often stood out for all to see when placed in a situation where we were living together.  A great life lesson was learned on those trips if any of our students began to understand what it means to offer grace and forgiveness to someone who, quite frankly, you just can't stand at the moment.  Remember, Jesus said to love your enemies and pray for those who wish evil on you.  My guess is He said that on a Thursday...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 22, 2010

Beach Blog, 1991

In the summer of 1991 we took a group from Springfield Friends Meeting to North Myrtle Beach, SC.  We stayed at a house called The Spinnaker (the Betsy B was booked) for a week.  As always I brought along my trusty video camera- a Magnavox about the size of your average TV camera.  And as usual, I was having too much fun to worry about actually taping anything!   Finally, on our last full day, I broke out the camera in the morning and shot for most of the morning.  Today, I am watching that video and blogging what I see.  I should mention that the following is rated PG!  Here we go...
  • We open on Jon Moran's temporary dragon tattoo purchased at the Pavilion the night before.  Jon addresses the camera and says "I will now attempt to eat a whole box of Fruity Pebbles."
  • Stacy Gilbreth, Natalie Whitaker, Holly Harward (all pictured above),  Charles Freedle and Ben Moran are on the oceanfront porch, watching the action on the beach as Led Zeppelin plays in the background.  Stacy wants me to film some guy named Marcus, who is not with our group but who is "really cute."  I refuse.
  • Jennifer Simmons discusses forgetting her swim suit on a beach trip, and also how"gross" she looks.  Marilyn suggests that she wear Stacy's "flowery bra" and that no one would notice.  Jennifer responds by telling the camera her sister Amy looks gross too...Amy, now pictured, is not amused.
  • A group of us wake up Kelly Allen by invading her bedroom and singing her the "Kelly, Kelly, Kelly" song from the TV show Cheers.  She is also not amused.
  • Avis (whose last name I have forgotten) threatens to expose herself again (A note of explanation:  Avis had lost her bikini top in a wave on our first day, exposing what the kids came to call "her flippers."  Yes, this stuff really happens...) but does not.
  • Shon Hildreth, Ion Hildreth, Noel Cecil and Donald Fleischman are on the porch now, listening to Guns and Roses and bothering Holly and Nat.  A moment later Journey is playing.  The soundtrack to this video rocks!
  • Holly, Nat, Jennifer and Stacy are walking on the beach in front of the house and screaming my name, wanting me to film them.  I do briefly, but then we hear the voice of Charles in the background saying "don't get that."  He then tells me to focus on two other girls walking the beach, and he yells at them "Hey ladies!  WAVE!" And they do...
  • Ryan Simmons and Steven McGrath make a brief appearance, but say nothing.
  • Wendy Mattocks and Kelly, sitting in a chair on the first floor, tell the following joke: "What's green and goes slam, slam, slam, slam?  A 4-door pickle!!!"  I taught them that's my own fault!
  • Kelly begins to tell us the story of being awakened earlier, then realizes if anyone is actually ever watching the tape, they have already seen that happen.  She also tells of how we forgot to awaken her stuffed animal Yolanda, who apparently had fallen into a crack.
  • Stacy takes this opportunity to once again tell us that her raft has a hole in one of the seams.  And just as she has the entire week, she does this by reporting "there's a hole in my crack."  Ah yes- these are my people!
  • Charles and Mike Mercadante (who has just gotten up) have tattoos, too.  Jon has finished the entire box of Fruity Pebbles.  Tom Petty is now playing in the background.  I love this trip!
  • Josie (again, the last name escapes me), Natalie and Holly give us a tour of their room.  Clothes and hair spray are everywhere!  I threaten to condemn the place...
  • Wendy and Kelly have changed floors but are still sitting in the same chair.  Jennifer Wood has now joined them.  They begin telling jokes, and then Stacy (who seems to be everywhere the camera is) tells a classic:  "What do you get when you play a country song backwards?  You get your wife back, your dog back and your truck fixed!"
  • Wendy remarks that Jennifer Wood, dressed all in green, looks like a pickle.  This prompts Natalie to tell the exact same pickle joke as before.  We all try to act surprised.
  • Kelly brings out Yolanda, and a lengthy discussion ensues over whether this creature is a dog or a bunny.  Someone even suggest a bear.  Kelly swears it is a bunny.  I suggest it is a "Dunny," to which Kelly replies "Yes.....NOOOOOO!" 
  • Marie Allen is finally awake...
  • Jon, Charles, Mike and Bryan Dowling emerge from their room, looking suspicious.  Mike and Charles are wearing Speedos, and they proceed to run around the building.  Mike has dollar bills tucked in his.  As they run back into their room, Charles shouts "Well I never!"  I respond "Well maybe you should!"  Jimmy Buffet plays as the camera fades to static...
  • The next morning, everyone is banging pots and pans trying to wake everyone else up.  Jon, Mike, Charles and BD sleep through it all.
That's it.  I missed filming the devotions, the singing on the porch, Black Thursday and all kinds of other excitement. I seem to remember sitting up one night and trying to count all of the "Na-na-na-na-na's" in the Journey song Loving, Touching and Squeezing. Every trip offers so many memorable moments.  I did capture the feeling of community and the love that we all had for each other.  I hope you enjoyed this flashback- I sure did!  Maybe in a week of two I'll break out the 1992 beach trip and do this again...  See you tomorrow!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Space Oddity

I wrote yesterday of how important it is to "be there" for students when you are in youth ministry.  I was reminded of another example of that very thing a few months ago when Marilyn has a Facebook conversation with another former Springfield youth, Jim Farlow.  In 1990 Jim and I attended a David Bowie concert in Chapel Hill, NC.  Jim was in high school and was a huge Bowie fan and needed an adult to drive him the the Hill, and so we went.  I vaguely remember going;  Jim reminded Marilyn that not only did we go, but that we took her brand new 1990 Miata, and that he remembered it as being a great night.  It was nothing special on my part, but to Jim, it was a big deal.  And something he retains fond memories of today.

The same could be said of showing up for football games, cheerleading competitions and band concerts.  The same could be said of hand written post cards and phone calls.  These things may not seem like a big deal to adults, but to youth they are huge. Often I would stop by the home of a student to discover my hand written post cards featured on the refrigerator or the wall of their room.   I remember visiting students at school for lunch and having them ask "What are you doing here?"  I would always answer "I am here to see you!"  Their smiles would say it all...

Youth ministry is 80% relationships (adults to student, student to student and Jesus to everyone!), 10% programs and 10% teaching, all wrapped in prayer.  I fear many youth ministries have forgotten that ratio and are far too focused on programs, missing chances to build relationships that will last a lifetime.  For me, every chance to build a relationship, even listening to Bowie sing A Space Oddity, was a chance not to be missed.  "This is ground control to Major Tom..."  Thanks, Jim.  I had a blast too!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Best of Bread

Today I want to share with you one of the worst kept secrets in youth ministry.  Youth Pastors have favorites (shhhh...).  We shouldn't, but we do.  There are some students you just connect with in completely unique ways, and being around those youth is always a joy.  Well- most of the time, anyway!

Today's story has two parts.  You need to know that when I was in junior high school (shortly after the invention of electricity!) there was a very popular band called BreadBread specialized in slow, touching love songs that were the absolute best for slow dancing (except for the Beatles' Hey Jude- over 8 minutes long!  You had to pick the right girl for that one...).  If you were looking for a little snuggle time with a girl, the album The Best of Bread was the one you wanted in the old 8-track player.

Fast forward to the late '80's.  Like I said in the beginning, youth workers tend to have favorites. And at that time, no sub-group of our ministry was closer to me than Keri Vinson, Shelley Godwin (both pictured at left) and Heather Beggs.  We shared a ton of adventures over the years, from all the youth trips to attending a Billy Joel concert together with Marilyn and Shelley's twin brother Jeremy.  I was involved when they needed relationship help; I helped throw Keri and Heather surprise 16th birthday parties; and all of them stopped by my office and our house on a regular basis.  Keri and Shelley attended church someplace else; but they had become very active in our youth ministry.  The good part was how close we became; the interesting parts were the questions they would ask me and the things we would discuss.  Nothing seemed off-limits, whether it was serious, spiritual, or just the kind of thing you would talk to a friend about.  I always tried to "be there" for every student in our ministries over the years.  With the kids you grow closest to being there goes to whole new level.

Perhaps no story illustrates this better than the night Keri called me at 1 AM (it might have been Heather and Keri; they were seldom apart in those days) to tell me she had just heard a song on the radio.  It was a very sad song  about a guy who found a girl's diary under a tree.  The guy thought she had written about him, but it turned out to be another guy that she loved.  Keri loved the song but had no idea the title or the band.  She thought I might know.  At 1 AM.  And no alcohol was involved.  I suppose this should have irritated me, but instead it made me laugh.  I told her that the band was Bread, the song was simply called Diary, and that she could borrow the album anytime- or I could just sing it for her!  She laughed, said she knew I was the right person to call, and that was it.

You want to know what it is like to be in student ministry?  Just read the previous paragraph again.  Your life becomes part of their lives. You are their resource at 1 AM when other adults are not happy to participate in their lives.  You share in their joys, their tragedies and their accomplishments.  You are there when they fail.  And hopefully, along the way, you teach them that Jesus will always be there to share in those things.  Because even with your favorites, you can't be there forever- but Jesus can!  And now I am off to listen to some Bread and cry- man could they write some sad songs!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 19, 2010

Psychological Sit-Ups

Pictured above:  A typical TNT night, featuring Noel Cecil, Mary Mercadante,
Elizabeth Tillman and Carrie Burton
Every now and then in youth ministry you lose control of a situation.  In my case, it was usually my fault.  But sometimes circumstances just surprise you.  Here is one such story.

One of the reasons our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting became so popular among students was our willingness to be goofy and daring with our programming.  It helped that we had goofy and daring students on our ministry,too! We often did stunts that ended with someone getting wet or receiving a pie in the face.  Our favorite way of delivering the whipped cream pie was a stunt called Psychological Sit-Ups.  It worked like this:  I would announce that I had acquired a Spock-like power of pinching a nerve in a person's neck and rendering them paralyzed.  It required an elaborate set-up for me to accomplish this, and I would ask for a volunteer to help me demonstrate.  I would blindfold them, cover them in towels and sheets, and lay them on a table.  I would apply the pinch as the crowd began chanting "you can't sit can't sit can't sit up..."  The chant would grow louder and louder until I would scream SIT UP!  The person on the table would be unable to move- because they were in on the stunt.  After two such performances, it was easy to find a third volunteer who didn't know the trick and was eager to prove me a fraud.  We would go through the whole show a third time, only this time, the over zealous victim would sit straight up- into a waiting pie held by another student.  It was a classic stunt that I used for many years.  And it almost always worked.

One night at TNT we were had a number of new people (which of course is the only way it worked- once you saw it, you had to be pretty stupid to fall for it...) and so we broke out the pie.  Things were going along just fine, and the victim was a Trinity High School girl whose name escapes me (Lynn Prevette, maybe?).  As we got into the stunt, the pie appeared as usual, and was handed to another girl, Pam Collins.  Pam was friend of our Amy Simmons and, we thought, of the victim.  What I didn't know was that on that very Monday they had gotten into an argument over a boy, and tensions were still running high.  So when the victim sat up, the pie was not just waiting for her- the pie was SMASHED into her face with great force!  I thought for sure it broke her nose.  There were gasps from the gathered crowd as I moved in to try and ease her pain and clean her up to make sure she wasn't injured.  It was one of those thousands of youth ministry moments that is funny now...not so much then.

After that, only students I knew well got to hold the pie.  And we moved on to another pie delivery stunt- Speed Kissing.  But that's for another day!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

CCM Countdown: 15-11

My every Thursday countdown of the 50 Contemporary Christian Music projects that most influenced my life and ministry continues as we approach the Top 10!  To see 20-16 and get links that will lead you to #50, click here.  To check out my new blog, a pre-Easter devotional called The 40 Day Adventure, click here!

15) GOOD ADVICE- James Ward- 1985

I first met James Ward when he performed at the 1982 National Youth Workers Convention in Dallas. He later was with us for Young Friends Yearly Meeting sessions in the late 80's and did our New Year's Eve concert in Vermont at Youthquake '91. This project was always my favorite, featuring great songs like Pray, Pray, Pray, I Belong To You and Death Has Ended. We used the title track and Growing Pains as theme songs for a couple of retreats we did as well. You can still find this rare album on Amazon.
Download this: Good Advice

14) ILLUMINATE- David Crowder Band- 2003
The weird looking dude in the warm-up jacket changed worship music in the 2000's and this CD announced his arrival as a star. Every track lifts praise to God and thrills your soul. Revolutionary Love, O Praise Him (All This For A King), Open Skies and Stars are among the classics featured here. And the opening bars to No One Like You never fail to jump start my spirit and get me ready to praise Jesus! As good as this album is, nothing compares to worshipping with Crowder live...
Download this: No One Like You

13) UNDERDOG- Audio Adrenaline- 1999
I love Audio A, and it was very difficult to leave off so many of their albums. But there was no doubt that Underdog would be high on my countdown! Get Down always reminds me of Isabelle Davis dancing in the youth room in Kissimmee. We later sang it with the youth at Graceland. The title track reminds me of the Union Church of Hinsdale, where Andy Erskine would use it to psych himself up for gymnastics meets. Hands and Feet has connections to so many mission trips. And The Houseplant Song is a wonderful and humorous reminder of our responsibilities to share Jesus with the people we see every day.
And by the way- would you be ready to meet Jesus if a DC-10 fell on your head? Audio A
wants to know!!!
Download this: Mighty Good Leader

12) WE CAN'T STAND SITTING DOWN- Stellar Kart- 2006
I was already a fan of Stellar Kart from their single Life Is Good, Eternal Life Is Better when this CD hit the stores in 2006. This album was huge with my youth in Waycross, and I pretty much wore it out in my car. Great power/pop songs like Activate, Procrastinating, Hold On and Wishes and Dreams always made me smile. And their huge hit Me and Jesus offered this comfort: "When there's nowhere else to turn...remember you've got me and Jesus..."
Download this: Me and Jesus

 11) THE JOSHUA TREE- U2- 1987
Before the yelling starts, I know that U2 is not technically a Christian band. But CCM Magazine had this album in their top 10 all-time, so I can list it too! This project just oozes spirituality, from Where the Streets Have No Name through With Or Without You and In God's Country. But it would make my list based on one song- I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. No song better describes the search to be more like Jesus. Bono's vocal soars when he sings about his faith and declares "you know Ibelieve it...but I still haven't found what I'm looking for..." There is ALWAYS more to discover for those who seek the heart of God.
Download this: I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

This week's song to enjoy-  Beyond Belief-  Petra

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Apathy Night

The 40 Day Adventure begins today!  To be part of this Lenten devotional blog, click here, and discover how you can use the next 40 days to become WIDE OPEN for Jesus!

One of the really fun parts of writing this blog has been looking back through my files to see old newsletters and brochures I designed and wrote to keep students interested in what we were doing with our youth ministries.  I have to admit I had some pretty strange ideas.  The following was an ad for our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting from March, 1993.  Would this themed event grab your attention?  Or would it have sent you scrambling for the remote control, hoping to find a re-run of Little House on the Prairie?

March 15th-  TNT will meet from 7:30-9PM, and it will be (YAWN) Apathy Night.  This is your night not to care!  Wear the most boring clothes you can find- nothing bright or colorful.  Some of the things that will not be allowed on this night include laughing, smiling, crying, fast movement, applause and interesting conversations.  If you are caught breaking these rules, you will be dealt with in a very boring manner.  Yawning is perfectly legal.  Plan to join us for a real ho-hum evening of boredom- or not- I could care less if you come to Apathy Night.

Hard to imagine that the youth still showed up, huh?  But they did, for this and lots of other very strange theme nights, such as Jell-O Night and 60's Revival Night.  Those nights, and all the trips we took, were all part of what we did to put butts in the seats so we could talk about Jesus.  And for those of you who may have been part of one of my groups, I am curious- what theme night sticks in your memory?  I'd love to hear from you!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fat Tuesday

Are you interested in a pre-Easter devotional that you can do in a few minutes every day, and that will make you think about what it means to be "Wide Open" to Jesus?  Check out my new Lenten blog, The 40 Day Adventure!

Today is Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Also known as Shrove Tuesday (but Fat Tuesday sounds much more fun!) in many protestant circles, Fat Tuesday is a day set aside for indulging and decadence before the denial and commitment of Lent.  For many, pancakes are the official food of the day, and the ones pictured here would definitely cause me to commit gluttony!

One particular Mardi Gras in Kissimmee, Jill Augenblick, Andrew Lewis, Debbie Davis and I put together a Fat Tuesday pancake supper for FUMC-K.  We invited people to wear beads and festive clothing.  Families and groups were invited to create miniature Mardi Gras floats (they had to fit through our Fellowship Hall door!) and we had our own parade.  We drew a much larger crowd than anyone expected; I never did get a pancake that night!  It was a great lead in to a wonderful time of year in the church- the lead up to Easter.

So enjoy your day of decadence, and begin to prepare your heart for the season of Lent.  There is no better time to focus your heart and your thoughts on Jesus!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, February 15, 2010


The last night of the week Rich Mullins and I spent together at the 1990 North Carolina Yearly Meeting sessions, Rich performed in front of the entire NCYM, both youth and adults.  We all assumed he would play songs off his newest project, or perhaps his biggest hit, Awesome God.  Instead, he sat at the piano and performed Sing Your Praise To the Lord, a song he had written but that Amy Grant had recorded, and Elijah, a song from one of  his first albums.  As always, Rich sang not to sell tapes, but to praise God.  The next morning, as we said farewell, we prayed together one last time, and then he said he had something for me.  I had told him about our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting and how we also gave away door prizes, with the best prizes often being tapes or CDs.  He gave me a box of his CDs and tapes, and another box of T-shirts to use as giveaways.  This was part of the way he made a living- and he just gave it away.  Another lesson learned in my life.

His influence would be felt in so many ways in my ministry in the days and years that would follow.  My students who had been at NCYM came back fired up and ready to follow Jesus!  From that day forward I taught the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes at least once a year, and tried to find ways to get the youth really into learning them.  He inspired me to start taking groups of students to work in our local soup kitchen on a regular basis, and later would inspire mission trips.  Soon everyone at Springfield was listening to Rich's music and wearing one of his T-shirts.  The two shirts carried serious messages. One said "Live like you'll die tomorrow.  Die knowing you'll live forever!"  The other simply said "Alrightokuhhuhamen," the title of one of his songs (Another thing Rich taught me- AMEN means YES- not "the end.").  The song was all about saying YES to God.  I made banners to put up in youth room at Springfield and in "The Attic" in Kissimmee with just Alrightokuhhuhamen printed on them.  By Kissimmee, we were singing Awesome God and Sometimes By Step on a regular basis.  His impact on my ministry was tremendous.

So was his influence on my life.  Along with Mike Yaconelli, Rich was one of the two guys I was ever around who just oozed Jesus.  Listen to this quote from one of his final concerts:
"Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."  He moved out of the music scene in Nashville in 1991 to Wichita, Kansas, where he attended Friends University and received a B.A. in music education.  He and fellow Ragamuffin Mitch McVicker (the Ragamuffins were the band he had formed in 1993) moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1995 to live among the Native Americans and teach music.  For Rich, "What Would Jesus Do?" was not a bracelet- it was the driving question of his life.  And because I knew that, his music was a moving force and a comfort in my own spiritual journey.  At times when I struggled with my faith his song Creed reminded me "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am."  At the lowest points of my life, when I had let down everyone who loved me and everyone who believed in me, his words reminded me that "There's bound to come some trouble to your life, just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight..."  As I lost so many of the things that had been important to me, I found myself praying his words daily:  "Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf.  You have been King of my glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace?"  So many of his words showed me the light of Jesus in my darkest times.  No matter how bad it seemed, I knew I was still in "the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..."  Even his final project, The Jesus Record (see picture at top), promised me that "our Deliverer is coming..."

Rich was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997.  I cried, but Rich himself had already written about going to be with Jesus in his early classic Elijah- "When I leave I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.  And when I look back on the stars, it'll be like a candlelight in Central Park- and it won't break my heart to say goodbye..."  He left such a legacy in my life.  I am a Ragamuffin, a bum who is only important because of the love of Jesus.  And now, more than ever, I understand that my life belongs to God.  He still has a plan for me, and I will say YES when the time comes.  As the song says "You can argue with your maker but you know that you just can't say it... Alrightokuhhuhamen!" 

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"God's Own Fool"

Once I got past the initial shock of the truth of Rich Mullin's words (see yesterday's post) I began to learn.  As he taught on the 10 Commandments, I learned that the command to not take God's name in vain really meant "don't empty the meaning from the name of Lord."  It was so much more that just not cussing.  When he turned his attention to the Beatitudes, he focused a great deal on what it means to be "pure in heart."  His own song One Thing focused our thoughts:  "Everybody I know says they need just one thing, but what they really mean is they need just one thing more...You're my one thing...and the pure in heart shall see GOD..."  At the merchandise table where his tapes and T-shirts were being sold he would take time to explain to students why they should buy his newest project, Never Picture Perfect, instead of the one with the more popular Awesome God- and his reason was that God had taught him so much through the album.  One afternoon I walked into the big room we were meeting in and found him all alone, playing his hammered dulcimer and writing a new song.  The song turned out to be Sometimes By Step, better known by it's chorus "Oh God, You are my God and I will ever praise You."  Later, when the song was published, Rich gave all of the song writing credit to his pal Beaker.  When Randy Cockerham, who was singing the solo part on the youth choir Serenity's performance of Awesome God, asked Rich if he wanted to sing it instead, Rich told Randy how much he was looking forward to hearing him sing it.  He was so humble, so focused, and so connected to Jesus.

One afternoon we took the youth to a local water park (Emerald Aqua Garden Water Country Pointe- the place just couldn't pick a name!), and Rich went but didn't swim.  I sat with him by the pool for a while and confessed to him that I felt rather foolish leading music at this event while he sat and watched.  His response was that "feeling foolish is a good indication that you are walking with Jesus.  He must have looked crazy to his friends."  I asked him if he knew the song God's Own Fool by Michael Card and we discovered we both loved it.  Rich reminded me that being out of step with the world we live in often means we are in step with Jesus- and he challenged me to keep being foolish.  I want to do the same for you.  Read these words from Michael Card and let them remind you what it really means to give your life to the Christ.

It seems I've imagined him all of my life as the wisest of all of mankind
But if God's holy wisdom is foolish to men, He must have seemed out of His mind
For even His family said He was mad, and a Priest said "a demon's to blame"
God in the form of this angry young man could not have seemed perfectly sane

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise,
He played the fool and opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong,
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God's own Fool, for only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable, come be a fool as well

So come lose your life for a carpenter's son, for a madman who died for a dream
Then you'll know the faith His first followers had and you'll feel the weight of the beam
So surrender the hunger that says you must know and have the courage to say I BELIEVE
For the power of paradox opens your eyes, and blinds those who say they can see

And so we follow God's own Fool...

So get out there and be foolish for Jesus.  Love people when it makes no sense.  Follow the Good Shepherd in a world where everyone wants to be in charge.  Find your One Thing- find Jesus!  Tomorrow I will wrap up my series on Rich by talking about his lasting influence on my ministry.  Come join us!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Influences: Rich Mullins

Sometime in early 1990, Doyle Craven (then the Youth and Christian Education Director of North Carolina Yearly Meeting) unleashed "the plan."  The plan was that for our August Young Friends Yearly Meeting sessions we would invite the youth of Indiana Yearly Meeting to join us.  And as a by-product of this union, we could get Rich Mullins as our speaker.  Rich was a former Indiana Quaker who was making it big in the Christian music scene.  Doyle and a few others were ecstatic.  I was not.

First of all, I had never heard of Rich Mullins. My youth had never heard of him either.  I didn't see how this unknown singer was going to help us build excitement.  Secondly, he was a singer.  One of my pet peeves as a youth pastor has always been going to a concert and hearing the singer preach more than they sing.  I pay to hear them sing!  We were not even pretending in this case- we were going to pay a singer to speak for four days.  He would also do a concert, I was told, but this didn't do much to lift my spirits, since I knew none of his music.  I was far from sold on this idea.

Doyle and others kept telling my how great he was, how he had written Awesome God (a song I had not heard yet) and how his latest album was a smash hit.  When I saw the album cover (at right) I thought "Oh great- another preppy star who will never relate to my students."  I listened to the tape and had to admit I liked some of the music.  But still, he was coming to speak.  To heighten my apprehension even more, I would be leading music in the presence of this professional musician.  I did not look forward to the week.

Rich and his sidekick Beaker arrived, and I was immediately struck by how little he resembled the guy on the album cover above.  He wore dirty t-shirts, jeans with holes, had long hair and a constant stubble on his face.  He never seemed to wear shoes.  As the first session began I led a rousing session of singing and worship and turned it over to Rich.  He began by asking us all how many of us had memorized the 10 Commandments.  A few in the crowd raised their hands.  He then asked "In order?" and all the hands went down.  He proceeded to tell us how those were God's basic guidelines for living, and that we could not be committed Christians without knowing them.  Now I was getting mad.  He had known us for about 10 minutes and was already telling us we weren't good Christians.  It got worse.  He wanted to know if any of us knew the Beatitudes by heart, and no one did.  He told us that they were the condensed version of everything Jesus taught, and not knowing them was like trying to play basketball without knowing the rules.  He wondered out loud if the adult leaders of these youth had any idea what they were doing.  We were furious.  He was judgemental, he was condemning, he was defiant- and he was right.  I was humbled and broken before God in a whole new way- and not for the last time that week.  I went back to my room that night and began to memorize both of the suggested texts; I have never forgotten them since.

I didn't know it just yet, but from that point on no one's music or ministry would have more influence on my life than that of Rich Mullins.  Come back tomorrow to hear more, including how a trip to a water park ended with me having a new understanding of what it means to follow "God's Own Fool."

Because of Jesus,

Friday, February 12, 2010

Myrtle Beach Days

1988 at the Betsy B!

There are so many memories from each of the four Myrtle Beach trips I took with the youth of Springfield Friends Meeting.  The picture above is from the first one.  That's a much younger me standing in the blue shirt on the far left, with my wife Marilyn the very tanned one in front of me and to the right.  All of the smiles you see tell the story of what a great time we had- except, perhaps, for Todd Farlow, who in a search for romance woundup being used the entire week! 

I think I told the students on every trip I ever led that these were moments that should be cherished, because no one else would ever share in the same experiences with the same people in the same place.  Each trip was a one time deal.  And there is nothing that builds a group quite like a shared experience on a trip.  To everyone who ever shared in a trip with me, I say thanks for the memories.  It was the closeness we shared on these adventures that helped us journey together into the presence of God, and that helped us invite Jesus to walk the beach with us.  And that, in the end, is what we were there for in the first place.

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

CCM Countdown: 20-16

Here's another installment of my countdown of the 50 Contemporary Christian music albums that had the most impact on my life and ministry.  To see 25-21 and get links to previous posts, click here.

20)  ALL STAR UNITEDAll Star United-  1997
 With a name sounding like an English soccer team, Ian Eskelin and ASU burst on the scene in 1997 with their self-titled project full of infectious power pop.  Featuring great songs like La La Land, Saviour of My Universe, Bright Red Carpet and Beautiful Thing, this CD became a staple on youth group trips in the late 1990's.
Download this:  Smash Hit
19)  THISLost And Found-  1998
I met this unusual duo (Michael Bridges and George Baum) at a NYWC in Denver
and immediately fell in love with their sense of humor, their quirky style and their great songs of faith and inspiration.  Over the years I hosted four of their concerts and attended several others.  THIS (not to be confused with SOMETHING or SOMETHING DIFFERENT) featured Cling To the Cross, Be Not Afraid, New Creation and Must Be, along with three of their greatest hits- Slide Girl, Baby and LionsWe became friends over the years, and I once sold their CDs out of the back of their van for a couple of weeks- but that's a story for another time!
Download THIS:  Yes, please do!
18)  CUTTING EDGEDelirious?-  1997 (US)
In the mid-90's a worship band called Delirious? was taking the United Kingdom, a country known for it's lack of passion in worship, by storm.  When some of the music was finally released in the U.S. it revolutionized church music, and especially youth group music.  Songs like Lord You Have My Heart, I Found Jesus, Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble? and The Happy Song began to dominate the youth worship scene.  At times I thought we would be singing I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever literally FOREVER!  A two-disc project that changed they way we did worship.
Download this:  The Happy Song
17)  CAEDMON'S CALLCaedmon's Call-  1997
All it took to get me hooked of this creative band were recommendations from the late Rich Mullins and the great Teresa Reep TysingerLead of Love, a cover of Rich's Hope To Carry On and the fan favorite Bus Driver all made this debut project one of my favorites.  And This World is out of this world...
Download this:  This World
16)  FREE AT LASTdc Talk-  1992
Christian music changed forever with the arrival of this rap/hip-hop/rock album from these three Liberty University alumni.  Every song, from covers of Lean on Me and Jesus is Just Alright to the moving ballad The Hardway, touches the soul.  The message to teenagers on songs like Socially Acceptable and I Don't Want It rang true with my youth at Springfield and in Kissimmee.  And Luv Is A Verb still just blows me away!  
 Download this:  Time Is...

This week's song to enjoy-  Remembering You-  Steven Curtis Chapman

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Thought

I hear people say all the time that life isn't fair.  They say they don't get what they deserve.  They complain because they earn everything they have, while others seem to be getting it all for free. To all of this I say-  "Thank you, Jesus!"

"The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair"-  Relient K

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Greetings From Stumpy Point

In the late 80's a group of us began to try to spread the word that youth ministry was very important to the survival of the Quaker church in North Carolina.  Led by Doyle Craven, we did workshops designed to take the fear out of working with teens.  We also began to publish a newsletter called The Youth Ministry Grapevine, full of tips and trends that would help whoever worked with students at Friends Meetings all over the state.  I wrote a regular column for that publication under the name of Bubba, and called it Greetings From Stumpy Point.  Stumpy Point was a small, fictitious church where Bubba was the youth pastor.  Here is one of my favorite columns, from March of 1989.  Enjoy the flashback.

Hello again, Grapevine readers!  Do you often feel uncomfortable trying to visit with your high school or middle school youth?  Sometimes we get the picture in our minds that when we are one-on-one with our kids we need to be doing one of three things- evangelizing, counselling or advertising.  We don't want to miss a chance to lead them to Christ, to turn their lives around or to promote our youth groups.  And certainly all of those things are important.  But none of that is really visiting with your youth.  When you visit you should talk about the things they want to talk about in a setting that they are comfortable in.

Here's an example of how NOT to visit!  About a year ago I asked one of my high school guys, Bob, to come see me at the church.  He stopped by, came in my office and sat down.  He looked like a man before a judge, about to be sentenced.  For the next 45 minutes I talked about my youth program and how it could help Bob.  He blinked and nodded a few times and then left quickly when our time was up.  It took me almost a year to get Bob to come back.  But I learned from my mistakes, and after a few more disasters I figured out that my office was not the right place.  It was MY turf.  Visits should take place on theirs!  So now I do most of my visits at Bart's Burger Doodle over a milk shake.  I have learned that the true value of one-on-one time with youth is not in what I say, but in what I hear!

A good visit is invaluable in helping you establish good relationships with your students.  They open the door to all the other important things we hope to accomplish.  So get out there of the kid's turf and visit with your youth.  And good luck getting the church Finance Committee to give you a milk shake budget!  See you next issue...


Monday, February 8, 2010

The First Youth Week

I approached the summer of 1988 with great anticipation and a little bit of trepidation.  This was the year I was going to show everyone in our community and in North Carolina Yearly Meeting what a real summer youth ministry should look like.  I wanted to go big.  And I needed it to go well.  My philosophy was that youth had lots of spare time and were often bored during summer vacation, and that as a youth ministry part of our task was to fill the void.  I knew going in to my planning that we had two trips planned- Summer Safari week at Myrtle Beach and a trip to Atlanta to see the Braves play.  We would continue to meet on Sunday afternoons for YFYF (Young Friends Youth Fellowship) and on Wednesday nights for Rec Room (which included outings to local recreation spots and game nights in the Youth Room).  But to really make this summer special, I needed another big event.

I don't remember how I came up with the Youth Week concept.  I am positive I was not the first to use that name, but at the time I didn't know of anyone else who was doing it.  My original idea was to do it like a week long camp, only with kids going home to sleep.  I wanted the events to be special, odd and things the students would want to bring their friends to.  The first Youth Week in 1988 was the start of a tradition that would grow into an amazing event.  But it was just a start...

Later on, Youth Week would include great guest speakers like Duffy Robbins and Mike Williams.  For this first attempt our guest speaker was my old friend Terry Venable.  Later on, there would be guest musicians like Spooky Tuesday and Lost And Found.  For the original Youth Week, the only guest musician was me, playing a concert at the long defunct Covered Bridge Pizza Parlor on Friday night.  Later on, we had incredible drama from Curt Cloninger and Ted and Lee.  This time the only drama came from our own spontaneous melodramas.  We went to Carowinds for a day; we had Ice Cream Olympics after Terry spoke; and we rented the Wesleyan Center for basketball, volleyball and swimming one night  Looking back, it was not a spectacular event.  But it did set a tone.  It told the community that we were going own the summer and they could count on us to plan exciting events in the years to come.  And we did...

As the years went by, Youth Week became my favorite part of the summer because it challenged me creatively and spiritually to reach youth in new and exciting ways.  There will be many more stories about Youth Week events.  And sometime along the way you will hear about what would would have been the greatest Youth Week ever- if I hadn't messed it up- twice.

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, February 7, 2010

7 Things: Super Bowl Sunday

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and I have been flashing back to past years and parties with my various youth groups. Here are VII memories that came to mind from my XXVIII years in student ministry- still not including the year of the great fight- Amber and Chrissy will get their own post when I reach the Kissimmee years!

1)  It's weird, but I have absolutely no memory of any kind of Super Bowl party during my years (1978-83) at New Garden Friends Meeting. I remember Super Bowls from every other stop on my career- even one from 2001 at the Union Church of Hinsdale, IL, when a large crowd filled our little house to watch the game. I was only in Hinsdale for one Super Bowl. But I have nothing from New Garden...

2)  My first Super Bowl party after moving to High Point and Springfield Friends Meeting was cut short by a snow storm that led to an exciting couple of days (see A Super Surprise). The Giants beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI on January 25, 1987.

3)  We had several parties at the home of Butch and Barbara Moran while we were at Springfield. I can't remember if they were really youth parties, or if most of the youth were just there because they were related to the Moran's! In any case, these were fun because doing anything with Butch was fun, and they had a 55" screen...which in those days was HUGE!

4)  We used to get together with friends for the game and make huge crock pots full of chili.  Somewhere along the way, this changed to me making Mexican Pile-Up for the the multitudes. For the uninitiated, pile-up is basically a taco salad you pile on a plate, using chips instead of a shell. I have fed a lot of kids a lot of pile-up on Super Bowl Sunday over the years...but I always made them bring the desserts!

5)  The party got serious on January 26, 2003. We had moved to Wesley Memorial UMC in Tampa in 2001, and now we found our hometown Buccaneers in the big game. I knew I would be irritable and grumpy if I didn't get to pay full attention to the game, so we decided to not have a youth group party- sort of!  We invited only a few select youth and adults who we knew would watch the games and hosted it at our house, complete with Wing House wings! My Bucs whipped the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, and as the game ended we went outside and listened as the entire city of Tampa honked their car horns in celebration.

6)  The following year (Feb. 1, 2004) was a perfect example of why I often got frustrated on Super Sunday. We had the party in the Fellowship Hall at Wesley and drew a big crowd- about half of whom cared anything about the game. I spent most of the evening chasing kids back into the room and cooking.  We went through 30 pounds of ground beef in the Mexican Pile-Up that night. I was in the kitchen at halftime, trying to clean up a bit, when Jacquie Thomson came running in a told me that Justin Timberlake had just exposed Janet Jackson's breast, in what came to be known as the Wardrobe Malfunction. And I had missed it, along with most of the first half. At least the game got really interesting after that, even though the hated Patriots won.

7)  My final youth Super Bowl party was a great one. We held it in the Fellowship Hall at Trinity UMC in Waycross, GA on Feb. 4, 2007. I ran the cable through a VCR and into a video projector and we watched the game projected on a wall that had to be 90" wide! I ran the sound through our system, and we were better than any sports bar around. As a matter of fact, we were illegal. The NFL actually stopped some churches in Indianapolis from doing just what we did, limiting the size of the projection to 60". We charged ahead, eating pile-up, Dick's Wings and all kinds of goodies while the Colts beat the Bears and made Tony Dungy the first African-American ever to coach a Super Bowl winner. Good times!

So tonight I'm off to Winners Sports Bar here in Tampa to watch the game with Marilyn and Will and a crowd of strangers. I get to watch the game AND I don't have to cook.  But still...I miss all the excitement of those youth parties, and I always will.